Today’s podcasts go a long way in replacing broadcast over-the-air radio. Because podcasts can explore any area of interest in great depth, even the most obscure topic that would never have made it onto the conventional or commercial airwaves can command a rapt international audience. And that’s only one reason why podcasts are awesome, even if they may finally kill radio.
Podcasts have pretty much closed the gap between local and special interest radio broadcasts. With smartphones and internet connectivity approaching ubiquity, podcasts may be the most valuable peace dividend the internet has to offer. You can stream them at home, or download them on your smartphone and listen to them on your daily commute. With radio’s limited bandwidth and increased control by large media companies, the depth and variety — not to mention the local flavor of programming — has contracted over time.
There are so many podcasts to choose from and many are of marginal quality. To point you in the right direction, we compiled a list of the best podcasts around, covering a variety of topics, so you can spend less time sifting through the bad and more time listening to the good.
With the current unprecedented worldwide pandemic now stretching across the globe, many news and science podcasts are devoting resources and time to covering coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19). However, several new podcasts have emerged that focus solely on the current pandemic, so we have decided to place them in their own category now until the pandemic subsides.
Epidemic, a new weekly podcast on the coronavirus, specifically features infectious disease specialists and public health experts to present the most current information available and to answer listener questions. It is hosted by Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, and Ron Klain, the U.S. Ebola czar from 2014 to 2015. It’s clear that we are at the beginning of this pandemic and that we will see coronavirus spread across the U.S. and worldwide. The podcast focuses on what we can do to prepare and care for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @celinegounder and @ronaldklain. The hosts promise to answer your questions.
Coronavirus: Everything You Need to Know
Various experts at SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio offer the latest news and updates in treatment and public health precautions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Podcasts cover symptoms to watch out for, how to continue with your everyday routines, the effects on public events, and much more.
This new daily podcast, hosted by Tom Kawczynski, covers the COVID-19 pandemic from various viewpoints with an aim toward promoting public health, information, and safety. Current episodes cover what to expect in the coming days, the examples set in Europe and Asia, health precautions you should take, and other current topics.
Slate’s Political Gabfest is a weekly news roundup featuring discussions between hosts David Plotz, John Dickerson, and Emily Bazelon. Their political analysis is on point and their repartee adds some levity to the top stories of the week.
Left, Right & Center is a weekly podcast assembled by Los Angeles radio station KCRW. The debate forum of the podcast allows Josh Barro, Rich Lowry, and their special guests to analyze politics, policy, and culture from every angle.
As investigative reporting gradually vanishes from American print and broadcast news, podcasts and radio try to pick up the mantle. Reveal, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s radio show and dedicated podcast is one such example. The hour-long show, hosted by Al Letson, aims a spotlight at each topic it covers, remaining interesting and analytical while covering urgent and relevant topics.
News website Vox’s podcast, The Weeds, digs into the nitty-gritty of policy thoroughly enough to satiate even the biggest policy nerds. In a conversational format, Ezra Klein, Sarah Kliff, and Matthew Yglesias discuss how policy changes the public, and in turn, how the public changes policy.
This podcast features just what the name implies — news from around the globe. It consists of a pair of 30-minute news broadcasts compiled twice a day from the 24-hours news coverage offered by the BBC World Service. This is one of the best podcasts for commutes to and from work.
The award-winning show hosted by investigative journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez is unique in its independence. If you took media theory 101 (or you listen to On the Media), you know just how unique and important independent news media is — making this arguably the most essential news podcast of the bunch.
The World is Public Radio International’s daily news show. What makes it a standout is how the reports connect listeners to topics and people from around in the world in surprising ways — making bus riders in Bogota, Columbia relevant to morning commuters in San Francisco, for example — while covering some of the most interesting stories of the day.
Gaslit Nation is hosted by writers Sarah Kendzior (View from Flyover Country) and Andrea Chalupa. Both specialize in authoritarian states and were on to election hacking before the 2016 election. The show delivers sharp analysis, history, context, and insight on global affairs.
The Rachel Maddow Show is one of the most popular TV shows on MSNBC. Book author and scholar Rachel has the best, up-to-the-minute political guests to help viewers navigate the current political landscape. And you don’t need a cable account — cord-cutters can watch the audio or video podcast, often on the same night as the TV broadcast. The video part includes only the first two segments, but the audio has the whole show.
If you need to stay up to date on the latest events, The New York Times’ podcast The Daily provides all the news that’s fit to listen to in a tidy format. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, host Michael Barbaro guides listeners through the biggest news stories of the day, talking to experts and other Times reporters.
The justice system doesn’t always work, and podcasts like Undisclosed are there to make sure we don’t forget. Undisclosed takes the listener through the investigation, trial, and verdict of controversial cases, such as the death of Freddie Gray, with meticulous detail that makes every episode sound ripe for a multipart TV documentary.
The award-winning On the Media is one of the only shows dedicated to covering media news. Hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield talk about how the news is covered, regulated, and disseminated. They examine threats to free speech, the element of transparency, and hidden agendas with both intrigue and authority.
The Takeaway, hosted by Tanzina Vega and Amy Walter, offers a fresh alternative to daily news. Live reports from the field and listener call-ins round out the show and provide an extremely diverse analysis that makes for a good podcast to listen to at work.
This 10-part series follows Rukmini Callimachi, who covers terrorism for The New York Times, on her journey to understand ISIS. Every story is beautifully woven, capturing how everyday people can be persuaded into this terrorist organization. Callimachi, along with the series producer Andy Mills, spends countless hours and risk their lives to uncover the truth behind ISIS.
In this hilarious podcast, three brothers — Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy — field questions and concerns from listeners, and give some of the funniest advice you will hear in a podcast. Their thoughts on toilet comfort, Billy Joel Cosplay, and gargoyles might not be the most appropriate, but they will make you laugh.
Do you find it hard to digest American history? The Dollop has you covered. Every week, hosts and comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds tell a story from American history that you have most likely never heard of. Like, did you know in 1976 a plane with 60,000 pounds of pot crashed in Yosemite? That’s only the beginning, you’ll laugh till you cry and learn some history in the process.
Three comedians get together, often with their comedian friends, and watch some of the worst movies ever made. It’s like Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the radio, minus the robots and the heavy focus on B movies. In fact, part of what’s so hilarious about How Did This Get Made? is that many of the crappy movies were intended to be blockbusters. Winter’s Tale, anyone?
Hosts Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi discuss the issues most important to women and gays with hilarious irreverence. Often explicit, always germane, Throwing Shade rightfully calls out bigotry and sexism within a tightly rolled comedic wrapper.
The McElroy brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin), hosts of My Brother, My Brother and Me, have recruited their dad to chronicle their adventures through various Dungeons & Dragons campaigns in The Adventure Zone. The brothers have a great rapport and knack for improv; their shenanigans put the average D&D campaign to shame in this great fiction podcast.
We all have “WTF” moments in our lives and Marc Maron is just pointing a few of them out. His twice-weekly podcast, usually recorded in his Los Angeles garage, consists of him talking with comedic friends, writers, and celebrity guests.
Humorist John Hodgman’s podcast is like no other. The show sees him adjudicating trivial domestic disputes within a simulated courtroom, complete with real-life sound effects and the balmy Jesse Thorn as the bailiff.
This satirical “audio newspaper” stars comedian Andy Zaltzman as he breaks down the news from across the globe with comedians including Wyatt Cenac, Hari Kondabolu, John Oliver, Nish Kumar, Anuvab Pal, and his sister, Helen.
Hosted by man-of-many-nicknames Scott Aukerman, Comedy Bang! Bang! is the pinnacle of improv comedy podcasts. Each week, Aukerman is joined by various comedians, actors, and other celebrities, with the guests often appearing as outlandish characters (such as The Time Keeper or musical theatre composer Andrew Lloyd Webber). The show has a deep roster of returning guests and characters, and yet every episode goes in unexpected directions.
In Rap Radar Podcast, Brian “B. Dot” Miller and former XXL editor-in-chief Elliott Wilson speak to a variety of guests in the entertainment business about nearly everything under the sun. The most up-to-date episodes can be found exclusively on Jay-Z’s streaming service, Tidal. But for old episodes, including an interview with Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda about making a mixtape, and one with A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg about recent run-ins with the law, look to iTunes or Stitcher.
Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton are big names in the NPR music scene. Their show introduces listeners to all genres of music, from that emerging Latin America band you’ve never heard of to the more mainstream indie fixes.
Seattle’s’ KEXP is constantly at the forefront of broadcasting new alternative and indie music. The show features both prominent and emerging artists from the Pacific Northwest and around the world.
Electronic music more your thing? Then Above & Beyond is where it’s at. The London DJ trio Above & Beyond hosts the weekly two-hour show, bringing in 30-minute guest mixes from some of their favorite artists.
Sometimes it’s not enough just to listen to music. We have to have opinions about it as well. Sound Opinions features music critics discussing music news, reviewing new releases, and debating the musical merits of songs.
Music lives and breathes in songs. Exploder takes apart a single song — its structure, inspiration, and production — with the original musicians who created it. Artists include everyone from Wolf Alice and Nine Inch Nails to R.E.M and Lorde.
A panel of music critics, including the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica, discusses the latest pop news, songs, albums, and artists. It’s opinionated, sure, but the excess of music knowledge and sharp commentary make it worthwhile.
Minnesota has one of the best music scenes around and a great public radio presence to boot. The Current’s Song of the Day offers upcoming artists one song at a time.
Imagine your favorite band playing an unplugged concert in your living room. That’s essentially the premise behind NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. Musicians play their songs at the desk of one Bob Boilen, aka the All Songs Considered host, casting the music in a more intimate light and helping you discover new favorites.
In the podcast This Must Be The Gig, host Lior Phillips, talks to artists and industry personalities about their first concerts, preshow rituals, trends in the festival scene, and much more. From the lead singer of The Talking Heads, David Byrne, to John Linnell from They Might Be Giants, you’ll get firsthand accounts from your favorite people in the music industry.
Science and philosophy
Vegan activist Bob Linden was one of the first radio broadcasters and podcasters to go mainstream in dealing with issues of animal rights, diet, the environment, world hunger, public policy, justice, peace, cookie recipes, and the path forward from vegetarian to vegan. His perspectives and weekly guests are always illuminating.
In each episode of Science Vs, host Wendy Zukerman dives into contentious topics, with the goal of finding out what the scientific community has to say. Topics range from serious (fracking, gun control, nuclear energy) to lighthearted (hypnosis, meditation, even ghosts), and chances are you’ll laugh while you learn.
This podcast tackles complex issues, such as deportation and the American empire, with astute analysis and meticulous breakdowns. One of the longest-running podcasts, Open Source originally aired in 2003 with current host Christopher Lydon, and it has lost none of its luster in the time since.
Each edition of RadioLab focuses on one particular idea or concept, homing in on the people, sounds, and stories that work to bring the show to life. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich tackle scientific and philosophical topics.
This podcast is a fantastic way to learn how a Tsunami works, what’s the deal with North Korea, and who killed JFK. The topics are interesting, entertaining, and laid out in a manner that is easy to digest.
Hosted by Stephen Dubner, co-author of the mega-best-seller of the same name, this podcast “explores the hidden side of everything” from an economical/sociological perspective.
Ever wonder how the electric eel generates juice or what trypophobia is? Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick have answers, whether talking about mind-blowing mysteries or the newest scientific revelations, in this hour-long podcast.
Each story is a perfectly told and produced bite of the past. This tiny podcast crams a million visceral responses into each episode, presenting history in a way that makes you feel as if it were recounting one of your own memories — one you’d almost forgotten but now is forever ingrained in your mind.
Short readings that present large philosophical ideas is the general gist of this podcast. Four former philosophy students discuss the biggest philosophers and their ideas from the Western canon of the field, breaking them down in an informal roundtable discussion (read: after-lecture bar talk).
Dissecting the biological, psychological, and sociological aspects of being women, Stuff Mom Never Told You presents a candid and fresh view on gender. Whether delving into feminist transphobia or following a professional dominatrix, this podcast is sharp and informative while remaining accessible.
I each episode, host Ira Flatow interviews the top scientists and inventors, ranging from Jane Goodall to Elon Musk. There’s hardly an aspect of science or technology that Science Friday hasn’t covered, whether it be woolly bear caterpillars, the lingering effects of sneaker innovation, or what happens to plants when jettisoned into the vastness of space.
Hosted by NPR science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain illustrates the unconscious patterns behind human behavior using psychology and neurobiology.
On his eponymous podcast, journalist Ezra Klein explores the big topics in modern culture by talking to experts, artists, and luminaries. The show journeys far and wide into different subjects: Klein might bring on Nate Silver to talk about the tricky business of election forecasting, or economist Dani Rodrik to argue the weak points of globalism. One of the things that sets this show apart from other interview podcasts is that Klein is (usually) willing to challenge his guests’ views, poking and prodding to get straight answers.
Lore is a collection of real-life stories so scary, you probably wish they were fake. Each episode of the bimonthly podcast — which became a full-blown TV series in late 2017, thanks to Amazon — tackles historical events that often venture into the supernatural. With the help of host Aaron Mahnke, each segment carries a campfire-esque vibe.
No podcast collection would be complete without This American Life. Host Ira Glass delves into first-person stories and short fiction pieces from around the country. It will make you laugh just as often as it will make you cry. TAL holds the torch by which others are judged.
A different breed of storytelling than This American Life and Radiolab comes from the Moth organization. Each storyteller stands under a bright spotlight, in a crowded room, sharing their true experiences with a live audience.
This podcast is like a cross between This American Life and The Twilight Zone. The (mostly) true stories are alternately spooky, humorous, intense, and fascinating, and the experimental and eerie sound design is spellbindingly fun.
This series purports to be the local radio announcements of the titular weird desert town. Welcome to Night Vale is a bit like Twin Peaks if it were a podcast — with menacing glow clouds and monstrous mayors.
This podcast is, as host and producer Glynn Washington puts it, “storytelling with a beat.” Snap Judgment is a profound, engaging, and humorous listen. It puts a new kind of spin on standard storytelling.
Polite conversation often omits some of the most important topics of our day — and that’s where Death, Sex, and Money steps in. Celebrities and everyday people use the podcast as a vessel to discuss some of the hardest choices they’ve had to make, the biggest questions they’ve had to ask, and the things that have affected their lives the most. Anna Sale hosts.
Fans of Serial will enjoy this podcast about crime, which is a pet project of professional radio producer Phoebe Judge. Criminal incorporates reimagined versions of murder ballads, investigations into historical crimes, and stories on the wrongdoings within the criminal system. Whether moving or macabre, this podcast keeps its listeners interested.
Journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell adds “podcaster” to his résumé with Revisionist History, in which he tackles a different subject each episode, with topics ranging from Wilt Chamberlain’s free-throw shooting form to the shady economics of golf courses. No matter how inane a subject may seem at first, Gladwell manages to find a compelling story within.
If history interests you, but you find most history podcasts a bit dry, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is sure to entertain. Carlin has a flair for the dramatic, which is good because episodes tend to run hours in length. Episodes involve intensive explorations of different historical stories, with a focus on brutal events like the rise of the Mongol Empire or the Anabaptist takeover of Münster.
In This is Actually Happening, you are given the firsthand account — with zero commentary — from someone who has experienced something life-changing, devastating, and oftentimes unbelievable. If you have ever thought failure is the only option, these brave people will show you how they persevered through a time that seems too much for anyone to handle.
While basketball media is split between those who favor in-depth analysis and those who enjoy drama and storytelling, ESPN’s Zach Lowe walks in both worlds, and that makes his podcast one of the most entertaining in sports. Lowe is capable of breaking down any play to show what players did and why they did it, but he’s also an insightful reporter, drawing on sources — including players, managers, and other journalists — to shed light on the world behind the scenes of the NBA.
If you love nitty-gritty details of NBA cap management, Dun’d is for you. With a deep knowledge of the NBA’s contract system and statistical analysis, host Nate Duncan offers deep dives into games and roster moves. An excellent podcast for aspiring GMs/fantasy league players.
If you were able to go inside the irrational — yet highly-analytical — mind of a sports fan, it would sound like Bill Simmons Podcast. The famous sportswriter and creator of ESPN’s docu-series 30 for 30 has taken his long-running podcast to his site, The Ringer. Thankfully, Simmons has lost none of his flair when interviewing athletes, celebrities, and sports experts.
Hosts Michael Davies and Roger Bennett wears blazers and discuss soccer. They’re passionate and knowledgeable, providing both in-depth analysis and riveting guest interviews with equal jest.
Hall of Famer Jim Ross may remain the greatest WWE announcer in wrestling, but this podcast’s celebrity roster of friends and weekly discussion of today’s stars and storylines make it the go-to for wrestling fans.
Longtime friends and veteran voices Mike Golic and Trey Wingo join forces to bring you four hours of nonstop sports news. You can expect anything from the FIFA World Cup to a full hour about Kevin Durant quotes. Golic and Wingo give you everything you need and a lot of what you didn’t know you needed from sports news.
The Starters covers the day-to-day happenings of the NBA and touches on everything that occurs on and off the court. The crew on this show brings a wicked sense of humor to the table, along with basketball knowledge.
Jalen Rose is a unique voice in the sports broadcast world. He’s a former NBA player who spent plenty of time in the limelight and isn’t afraid to dish insider knowledge when it can provide better context to current stories.
Technology and video games
This Week in Tech has been one of the premier tech podcasts for a while now. The weekly show features tech enthusiasts Leo Laporte, Patrick Norton, Kevin Rose, John C. Dvorak, and others as they discuss trending tech.
If you’re familiar with Gimlet Media, you know that its podcasts contain a narrative thread regardless of the topic they’re covering. Reply All, Gimlet’s tech podcast, is no different. The stories center on how the internet and technology affect people (and vice versa) while remaining insightful and interesting throughout.
The BBC podcast provides an alternative viewpoint from the American tech shows while examining the many facets of technology and the role each one plays in our lives. The show often focuses on the internet and social networking.
The crew of Giant Bomb is a collection of veteran video game journalists and on their weekly podcast, they embark on lengthy excursions into the world of gaming, discussing games they’ve been playing, breaking down the news of the week, and responding to listener emails. The Bombcast crew has great chemistry and approaches gaming with passion and humor.
ShopTalk isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s essentially a podcast for web design, one that delves into front-end development and UX. Hosts Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert answer questions and calls, typically with a knowledgeable guest.
A shameless bit of self-promotion, sure, but if you’re here already you might like this. Our podcast is a casual and comical discussion between our writers and editors about the latest happenings in the tech industry and beyond.
After years of success, the next phase for any show is to create a spinoff. Video game website Giant Bomb entered the podcast arena with The Giant Bombcast. After building up an office in New York City, the East Coast staff established its own podcast, The Giant Beastcast. Hosts Vinny Caravella, Alex Navarro, Dan Ryckert, and Abby Russell — with a little help from CNET’s Jeff Bakalar — talk about the culture and industry surrounding games, as well as offer humorous riffs on pop culture and life in general.
Arts and culture
This is the latest iteration of Jesse Thorn’s arts and culture program, which started a decade ago on college radio. Thorn discusses and interviews a highly curated list of top influences on pop culture — from rapper Rakim to poet and novelist Margaret Atwood.
Beloved host Terry Gross has done a few difficult interviews. However, she remains one of the most empathetic, intelligent, and well-prepared journalists in all of radio — regardless of which luminary she features on the show.
At this point, the “roundtable discussion about pop culture” format is kinda clichéd. But Slate’s is one of the first and best. Each week, the three hosts pick three cultural topics, a mix of timely and timeless, and just gab about them.
This “tiny radio show about design” makes you appreciate the big and small decisions that shape the world we live in, from purple hotels and traffic markings to camouflage and parentheses around area codes.
Brian Heater has a quiet, open-ended conversation with a writer, cartoonist, musician, podcaster, artist, or comedian, and you’re dropped somewhere in the middle of it. Listen to learn how creators create.
Director Sam Jones believes the best interviews happen off camera. His long-form podcast is lined with honest interviews from the likes of actress Sarah Paulson and musician Common, along with a myriad of other artists.
Looking for a good book? The taste-makers at the New York Times can point you in the right direction. Authors and critics join the show to discuss literature, art, and ideas with host and editor Pamela Paul.
The BBC is a great place to go for cultural and artistic influences. BBC Radio 3’s Arts and Ideas program is one of the best. It has interviews, talks, and debates with artists, scientists, and public figures.
An essential listen for anyone who writes and an interesting listen for anyone who doesn’t, Longform interviews a different nonfiction writer or editor once a week about their process and career. Guests run the gamut, from literary superstars like Ta-Nehisi Coates to indie darlings such as Lena Dunham, providing insight and backstory regarding their most recent and famous works.
For the most comprehensive film reviews — and worst movie segment reenactments — you need to listen to Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen’s Filmspotting. The Chicagoan film professor and critic, respectively, give their incisive opinions of films old and new while laying down some of the most definitive top-five lists around.
It’s only fitting that this podcast out of L.A. should take its name from Hollywood parlance. Host Elvis Mitchell uses it to converse with some of the entertainment and art world’s most influential creators. Mitchell is a deft hand at getting even the most reticent guests to open up, and what they have to share is always interesting and insightful.
On Still Processing, New York Times writers Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham dissect the cultural issues of the day, covering a variety of topics including movies, music, and politics. It’s a podcast that can move between highbrow and pop culture.
Board games are having a moment, as more and more people experience the thrill of getting people together around a table for a night of fun (and maybe even intellectual stimulation). If you need a guide to the vast, treacherous world of board games there are none better than the folks at Shut Up & Sit Down, who review board games with a focus on the great social experiences they can create.
Initially launched to cover the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the biweekly Planet Money presents an excellent roundtable discussion that dissects the state of the global economy (with guests).
StartUp touts itself as a “podcast about what it’s really like to start a new business.” Alex Blumberg, a former This American Life producer and the Planet Money co-founder, created his own podcast company. Season 1 of StartUp is a reflexive examination of the process of starting up that company, Gimlet Media. The first season examined the setbacks and pitfalls that plagued Gimlet Media. StartUp is now in its eighth season, which examines the acquisition of Gimlet Media by Spotify.
Kai Ryssdal breaks down what’s going on in the world of current economics, not just relating the news but making it accessible to non-economy majors. It currently serves as one of the most digested pieces of media regarding business in the country, likely because Ryssdal regularly interviews entrepreneurs, CEOs, small business owners, and average participants in the economy.
Slate’s aptly titled podcast revolves around what Americans actually do at work, digging into the minutiae of their day-to-day lives. It explores these topics by interviewing those with interesting jobs, allowing it to explore everything from the boring parts of being a porn star to the exciting calculations of forensic anthropologists.
In this once-a-week podcast, host Guy Raz examines the stories behind some of the world’s best-known companies. From innovators to entrepreneurs to idealists, Rax takes you on a narrative journey of how their movements came to be. Some interviews include the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, how Wikipedia became our online encyclopedia, and even ice cream kings Ben and Jerry.
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